SOAR: An Introduction to the Playbook That Makes Your Organization Win
SOAR’s Strategy Execution System (SES)
Transitioning from identification of opportunities to tangible results requires,
clarity of purpose
focus on a few critical priorities
a continuous drive for improvement
respectful team accountability
While these qualities are often acknowledged by leaders, they are seldom embedded into operational workflows, creating much more distant and convoluted pathways for results. But how do these organizational traits become tactical, daily practices?
This post will walk you through the key steps in effectively strategizing, executing, and sustaining results – in other words, implementing a Strategy Execution System.
To simplify this, let’s relate this process to successfully planting and growing a tree. (See SOAR’s Strategy Deployment Tree in Image 1 as reference.)
As with any landscaping effort, the first step is cultivating the soil and environment to ensure a healthy root system. Every success or failure can be traced back to an organization’s root system – its mission, vision, and values.
It is not enough to just talk about these. Organizations must know and live these daily, as evidenced through both words and actions from the CEO to the front-line employee.
Additionally, there is a “sap” flowing within trees that carries energy into the distal branches.
Organizationally, this is known as the purpose of the business or “hoshin” (pronounced like “ocean” with an “h” in front). Hoshin is a Japanese term translated into “compass,” which is often referenced as the “True North” within Lean terminology.
Before a strategy can be deployed, it must be known, understood, and communicated.
However, when the organization’s purpose or reason for existence is unclear, neither employees or customers fully engage.
Simon Sinek refers to this in his powerful Ted Talk How Great Leaders Inspire Action. When people believe why they are doing what they are doing, the hard work behind the how they do it becomes less daunting and more meaningful.
SOAR’s name comes from the acronym of Strategize, Organize, Activate, and Recalibrate, which is the basis for its Strategy Execution System (SES).
Strategize, the first phase within SOAR’s SES, supports the organization as it develops or refines its purpose, values, and culture.
More specifically, the Strategize phase clarifies the organization’s purpose and ensures alignment between that purpose, team members, processes, and strategy.
Once clarity of purpose and alignment are achieved, the organization must work to,
build a common, foundational knowledge among leaders
identify senior level deployment leaders to instill accountability
prioritize strategic pillars or overarching “mother” strategies, which form the thickest part of the tree (or trunk), from which all other branches stem.
Following the Strategize stage, the team must begin to define the relationships between the senior strategy and the front-line departments and team members.
In relation to our analogy, how can we make sure the tree is not only growing, but growing where and how we want it to.
The Organize stage focuses on understanding the business value stream (or the flow of processes that ultimately brings value to the customer) and the connections between key departments and staff. Leadership now begin to break down the lofty mother strategies into measurable, annual objectives, which are identified as the tree’s thickest branches connecting to the trunk.
As a result of the Organize stage, key business value stream maps with prioritized opportunities and metrics are identified and cascaded vertically through the organization from layers of leaders to individual team members (e.g., CEO to COO to VP to Director to Manager to Frontline Staff). This intentional cascade keeps distal branches (or frontline departments) connected to the core trunk of the tree (or the core mother strategies for the organization).
Keeping Your Tree Healthy
It is worth noting that healthy trees sometimes require growth and sometimes require trimming. Experienced gardeners know that effective pruning ultimately benefits the health of the tree by limiting damaged or decaying portions of the tree, reducing competitive growth between codominant branches, and eliminating internal strife due to fighting over limited resources or nutrients.
Prioritization requires saying “No” to efforts or cutting core branches from the trunk of the tree as they may serve as a distraction to other focal points. This can be directly related to businesses and is one of the most difficult disciplines among business leaders. As Charles Hummel cites in his book Tyranny of the Urgent,
“Your greatest danger is letting the urgent things crowd out the important.”¹
Moving out from the core branches to the more distal branches brings one closer to the fruit of the tree.
If carefully managed, these distal branches will eventually bear fruit. The Activate phase begins identifying actionable improvements and initiatives along the most distal branches to target the opportunities identified in the Organize phase.
Dashboards with performance metrics and standard operating procedures should be established to support sustainability and organizational alignment.
By strategically and intentionally moving from the Strategize to Organize to Activate phase, organizational Performance Improvement or Lean Six Sigma resources can be properly deployed to focus on the most critical initiatives, avoiding peripheral “pet” projects that seldom contribute to (and more importantly distract from) the organization’s overarching strategy.
As the organization moves into the Recalibrate phase, the focus shifts to standardization and sustainability or control by embedding new behaviors into daily habit.
This is where the ongoing maintenance and care for the tree occurs, resulting in health, growth, and more abundant fruit.
During this phase, individuals are taught how to properly problem solve and continuously drive improvements that were identified in the Activate phase.
Additionally, Lean management practices are implemented, such as team rounding and “catchball” in this phase.
What is "Catchball"?
Catchball is a Lean term that refers to the constant, intentional, and meaningful dialogue that occurs between leaders and team members, enabling team members to share concerns or potential concerns with leaders and allowing leaders to address those concerns in a timely manner. This not only builds trust, but it results in faster problem resolution.
Significant coaching and communication must occur throughout every phase of the SES to ensure both leaders and team members are capable and confident in their new behaviors.
Employee trust, operational proficiency, and customer loyalty take time to develop, but with a clear pathway and consistent execution, these things can be achieved at a much faster pace.
Hummel, C. E. (1994). Tyranny of the Urgent. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.